NATIONAL NEWS & VIDEO - It is believed that taller people swim faster. In 2016, the average height of an Olympic men’s swimming finalist was 6’2” (188cm).
The physique of swimming superstars like Ian Thorpe (1.96m) and Michael Phelps (1.94m) confirms this theory. So, if the length of a good swimmer is such a big factor, South Africans have much more reason to get excited about the latest swimming sensation on the South African swimming scene.
He will only turn 17 in May this year and is still in grade 11 at Cornwall Hill College in Centurion, Pieter Coetzé, is already a Longshanks of 1.97m.
As a nine-year-old primary school learner in Rustenburg, Coetzé was already a sports fanatic, but swimming was quite low on his priority list. At the time, he was more at home on the athletics track as a sprinter or on the rugby field, where he excelled as a centre and fullback.
However, his older sister, Jana, was an avid swimmer who won medals at the hordes at swimming galas as a schoolgirl.
With all the time his parents spent getting Jana to practice and galas, they later encouraged Pieter to try out the sport as well. Initially, he was not enthusiastic, but when he started performing in this sport and started winning galas without much practice, the swimming bug quickly bit the young Pieter.
Soon he started breaking records and the swimming community of South Africa took notice of him. For example, he holds all the national u.16 backstroke records (50m; 100m and 200m), while also boasting a few other junior records.
Pieter Coetzee the 16-year-old schoolboy from Pretoria, has the swimming community of South Africa in raptures with his achievements in the pool. Photo: Anton Geyser
When Pieter started getting serious about his swimming in high school, his parents decided that he should get professional coaching. That’s how he ended up at TuksSwimming where the internationally renowned coach, Rocco Meiring, took him under his wing.
Jana, meanwhile, began studying at the University of Pretoria and it was decided that Pieter would move with her to a townhouse in Pretoria while enrolling as a learner at Cornwall Hill College. In this way, he would be able to practice more frequently at the university under Meiring’s watchful eye.
Although he also played hockey until grade 8, Pieter then started using all his extra time before and after school to build his swimming career. This dedication has begun to bear more fruit and in recent years he has been regarded by experts as one of South Africa’s most talented swimmers.
Eventually, the 16-year-old swimmer reaped the reward after all his hard work and sacrifices. Two weeks ago, he qualified in the 100m-backstroke for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
He also did it properly, as he surpassed the A-standard time in the 100m-backstroke, which basically guarantees him a ticket to Tokyo.
As far as can be ascertained, Coetzé is the youngest male swimmer in the history of South Africa who could qualify to take part in an Olympic Games. Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh were both already 20 when they did so.
His challenge at the recent national championships had been to swim 53.85s in the 100m-backstroke and 1:57.50 in the 200m-backstroke. Coetzé finally reached 53.62s in the 100m in one of his last attempts at the championships.
“It was without a doubt one of the biggest highlights of my swimming career. My coach was instrumental in getting me to believe I can qualify for the Games. Before the relay, he told me to relax and just enjoy the swim. I did and got the result,” Coetzé explained after the event.
After that, he immediately set himself a new challenge. He hopes to qualify in the 200m-backstroke a few weeks from now at a Grand Prix meeting. His winning time during the recent championships was 1:58.33. It is a mere 0.83s off the qualifying Olympic standard.
“I am currently more of a 100m-backstroke swimmer, but my times over the longer event are constantly improving. So, I am going to go out hard the next time I swim the 200 metres,” Coetzé remarked.
Although he is only 16 years old, the young Pieter Coetzé with his lithe athletic body already has the right physical qualities to be a good swimmer. Photo: Reg Caldecott
His greatest sports hero is the international soccer sensation, Christiano Renaldo.
“From a young age, Ronaldo was never content. He wants to win more than other people and to show that he is better than the rest. This extreme will to win motivated him to work harder. I am striving to do the same,” Coetzé explained.
In swimming, he looks up to the American, Ryan Murphy, three-time Olympic gold medallist and world-record holder in the men’s 100-meter backstroke.
Future for Pieter Coetzé
And what does the future hold for Pieter Coetzé?
“I still want to swim for a long time and try to win medals at as many Olympic Games and World Championships as possible. And although I do not want to leave South Africa, I will definitely look into every opportunity that comes my way,” he said.
But for now, he wants to make the most of his chances at this year’s Olympics.
“Let’s put it this way: I’m going to train as if I want to win a medal, but if I finally get this chance just to gain experience against the world’s best or to even reach a final, I know I’ll be better equipped for the future. To make my people and my country proud,” Coetzé concluded.
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